When I think of Lent, I think of giving up something. I had a friend give up hope one year (only joking, of course.) In middle school, I gave up the use of spoons. Needless to say, I think that I seriously missed the point. Even though Lent is not biblical, personal sacrifice for the sake of the Lord is a major theme in the Old and New testaments. When I think about personal sacrifice (besides the Cross), I think of the Old Testament story of Abraham and Isaac: Genesis 22:1-19. As you read through this story again, notice how faithful Abraham must have been to even attempt to carry out such an act. Look at how God responds to this faithfulness, and then how Abraham responds to God’s faithfulness.
One of the first things I notice is that Abraham didn’t try to bargain about what exactly was supposed to be sacrificed. He didn’t say, “Um, well, how about my cat? Or, my camel! I’ve got a really nice camel…” He took God’s instructions and had every intention to obey them. While I think that Lent is a good time to step back and see what we can cut out of our lives to make them more focused on Him, I think it is much more important to see that God asks us to offer up personal sacrifices to Him daily. Luke 9:23 says “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me.” Being a follower of Jesus is not easy. It requires that we daily commit to picking up our cross. You might be confused if you think that Lent only requires that you give up sweets or eating breakfast. Am I saying that you need to give up one material thing a day? No. I’m talking about sacrificing your pride, even though that teacher or friend really deserves your anger. I’m talking about sacrificing your image to follow the Holy Spirit’s lead and sit with that lone kid at lunch. I’m talking about sacrificing your half hour of television so that you and God can have some quality time. I’m talking about not offering God a camel, when He asks for your son.
So the next thought in our tiny pea-brained human minds is: “You’re asking for my son? My pride? My image? That’s a lot to give up, God. What’s in it for me?” When we ask this, we don’t really understand what it means to sacrifice. It’s not for our benefit. God deserves everything because He’s God. Period. But the cool thing about Him is that He takes our sacrifices and turns them into something totally usable for His glory. God saw Abraham’s faithfulness and sent him an appropriate substitute. In the New Testament, some people decided to share their bread and fish and God took that small sacrificial gift and multiplied it times 5000 (Mark 6:30-44). A widow gave ALL she had to live on and Christ commended her for putting “more into the treasury than all the others” (Mark 12:41-43). Why? Because she was poor and she sacrificed her security, money, and wellbeing for the Lord. In all of these, God took care of things after the person was faithful enough to trust Him. The Bible is full of blessings for the faithful and the righteous. Even though God may call us to make some pretty spectacular personal sacrifices, we must have faith that He knows how what we really need. Our sacrifice needs to be wholehearted, just like Abraham’s. “I swear by myself, declares the Lord, that because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore…and through your offspring, all nations on earth will be blessed because you have obeyed me.” Genesis 22:15-18
The last interesting thing about this story is what Abraham did after the Lord provided a ram to sacrifice, instead of Isaac. He sacrificed the ram and then he named the place “The Lord will Provide”. This is significant because Abraham recognized how important it is to remember what God has done for us. If you give up watching an hour of TV a day to pray, and God starts to answer your prayers, how are you going to remind yourself of what He’s doing? A common practice in the Old Testament was building an altar. Abraham named a place. If you do something to remind yourself of what the Lord has done, then it will be easier to trust Him the next time.
The spirit of Lent, one of selfless sacrifice for the Lord, should not just be 40 days long. We should strive to submit to God’s will everyday and that means continually yielding our entire lives to Him. If we can learn to daily take up our cross, we will see God’s faithfulness and goodness.